STACH pllc - Preservation Through Design
The debate concerning our nation’s war monuments, particularly those representing confederate units has reached a fervor pitch. The thoughtful consideration of whether these historic monuments should remain in-situ, receive additional interpretive context, or be removed and relocated, has been replaced by carte blanche recommendations for the removal of all confederate monuments.* These requests are understandably drawn in response to recent events and are intended to limit racial divisiveness and defuse the co-opting of historic sites by hate groups. Before any policy affecting the future of these historic features is entertained, we support consideration of the following truths.
War Monuments are contributing features of our shared Cultural Landscape: Historic war monuments of every war, of every side, and of every unit are each contributing features to our nation’s diverse cultural landscape. As preservation landscape architects and planners, we hold that these historic features are worthy of preservation in-situ and that an enriched cultural dialog and interpretation is wanting. Their removal diminishes opportunities to expand interpretation of our shared history; the good, the bad, and by present standards, the incomprehensible.
The American Civil War took an unprecedented toll on our nation and our landscape: The American Civil War took the lives of roughly 620,000** soldiers, both confederate and union, totaling nearly 2% of the country’s 1860 population and affected the entire nation’s cultural legacy in profound ways. The war’s casualties exceeded the nation’s loss in all other wars combined from the Revolutionary war up to the Vietnam war. By today’s equivalency 2% of our population, would equal 6 million Americans, a number greater than the individual state populations of more than 60% of individual states. It is no wonder our nation’s cultural landscape, which endured more than 383 nationally significant Civil War battles across more than 3.7 million acres holds features to commemorate the totality and weight of this catastrophic historic period.***
Healing and reconciliation have not yet been delivered: By the war’s end roughly 3.9 million enslaved persons were declared free through and by this national conflict. Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865 expressed the need for reconciliation “With malice toward none, and charity for all,” however, history and even the present attest that these sentiments have not yet come, we have not yet healed as a nation, nor as individually divided cultures. This is a great injustice and the divisions of race and culture must be healed through shared knowledge, discourse, and faith. Lincoln attested that “both [sides] read the same bible and pray to the same God.” If this holds true today (which I hope and believe to be the case), then our collective thoughts and prayers must be accountable that these divisions have remained not in the memory of our past but in our present and future.
The Present and Future of War Monuments as Cultural Landscape Features: War monuments speak to the individual impact this national tragedy had on its citizens, both on the battlefield where blood was shed and within a soldier’s home community; An impact and tragedy we ought never to forget, and a memorial (considered by some to be a more fitting classification than monument) to mark the end of that era. While their histories, like our nation’s, include eras of continued racial and cultural division, a belief that these divisions are housed exclusively within a commemorative feature is displaced. The removal of war monuments ultimately damages our shared cultural landscape history, increases division and limits opportunities for discourse, broadened interpretation, and racial and cultural healing in the individual places and townships where they exist. Each monument should be researched and studied within its physical and cultural context, and employed to educate and interpret a broader cultural narrative that rejects divisive ideologies and celebrates our diverse heritage and culture for the betterment of future generations.
STACH pllc, Preservation Through Design, is a national-niche preservation landscape architecture and planning firm and the leading private-sector battlefield preservation firm in the country. We understand the complexities of historic landscape preservation as well as the treatment and interpretation of individual contributing cultural landscape features. Learn more at www.stachpllc.com . While we work with many national NGOs and governmental organizations in this arena, our beliefs and statements represent our personal experience and position on this matter.
* Virginia and North Carolina’s war casualties were among the highest of either side.
** Some studies place the number of Civil War casualties significantly higher.
*** Update to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, NPS - American Battlefield Protection Program, 2012.